Home Run Efficiency: How It Affects Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, Busts and Trends

John ZaktanskyCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2011

Jose Bautista had a banner year in 2010, but can he keep up the pace? Home run efficiency stats tell the story.
Jose Bautista had a banner year in 2010, but can he keep up the pace? Home run efficiency stats tell the story.Brad White/Getty Images

One of my most prized possessions growing up was a large, hardcover book titled “The Way Things Work.” It was filled with full-color diagrams and easy-to-understand explanations on how everything from levers to lasers and windmills to waffle irons worked.

I was never one who could simply accept, for example, that a toaster toasts bread. I needed to know how.

I took apart numerous toasters growing up, putting some back together and using others to create my own version of a Ghostbuster proton pack.

And when it comes to fantasy baseball 2011, I can’t simply accept someone dictating to me that Jose Bautista will majorly regress in 2011 or that Mitch Moreland is a potential sleeper.

I need to know why J.P. Arencibia is touted as the next Mike Piazza.

And so, I started messing around with a fairly obscure MLB stat that measures home run efficiency, which is nothing more than at-bats per home run.

Basically, it gives us an average number of at-bats that a player has in between each long ball. The lower the number, the more efficient the batter at going yard.

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I've created a chart that includes the top 28 hitters, regardless of position, in home run efficiency. You can check it out here.

Some of the interesting trends, including possible sleepers and busts that can be determined from the list, include:

First things first: it should be no surprise to see hitters such as Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Joey Votto, Alex Rodriguez and other premium power sources on the list. These guys are the ones who typically put up an elite home run efficiency score year in and year out.

They are the gold standard that allow us to look for patterns and trends in other players.

Jose Bautista, TOR. His 54 homers last season were totally unexpected, and many wonder if he can repeat a high home run output in 2011. Like most, I was pretty skeptical considering the power surge seemed to come from nowhere.

A look at his home run efficiency only adds to that skepticism.

He produced a wicked-good 10.5 at-bats between home runs, easily the best in the majors last year. However, in each of the four previous seasons he averaged around 25 at bats between homers, and actually was closer to 35 in 2007 (his only other season with more than 500 at-bats).

What does that mean? It's very unlikely that Bautista reproduces his 2010 home run efficiency. It is much more realistic to expect a low- to mid-20 in the category, meaning that if he was able to stay healthy for a full season (which he was unable to do prior to 2010), he’ll hit around 25 to 30 homers.

Remember that his batting average isn’t exactly stellar, too, and you should get a better picture of what to expect (Mark Reynolds-lite?).

Jim Thome, MIN. One of the best aspects of looking at at-bats per home runs is that it puts all hitters on a level playing field in terms of how much they played last season. While Bautista had 569 at-bats in 2010, Thome only saw the plate 276 times.

The results, for Thome at least, were the same: An elite AB/HR mark.

In fact, Thome has the fifth-best home run efficiency in major-league history. His 13.68 is bettered only by Mark McGwire (10.61), Babe Ruth (11.76), Ryan Howard (12.16) and Barry Bonds (12.90).

Of course, the issue with Thome has been, for quite some time, just how many at-bats he’ll actually see.

One thing is for sure, considering his home run efficiency over the course of his career: when he does play, he’ll give you some power assistance.

Russell Branyan, ARI. Inclusion of the journeyman first baseman on this list may be a surprise to some, but his 25 homers in 376 at-bats generated a 15.0 home run efficiency in 2010.

Again, this stat is interesting because it allows us to better evaluate players who only see action on a part-time basis, and Branyan has made a career out of part-time work.

The interesting part for Branyan is that during his 13 seasons at the MLB level so far, he has averaged 14.6 at-bats per each home run. His place last year among the best in home run efficiency is no fluke.

If you need a cheap source of power this season and Branyan is both healthy and seeing regular playing time for the Diamondbacks, you could do worse than to snag him from the scrap heap.

Mitch Moreland, TEX. I told you that Moreland was one of my first base value/sleeper picks. One of the bigger telling points for me has been the Rangers’ treatment of Moreland this offseason.

The pitching-starved club wouldn’t move Moreland for Matt Garza. They also told long-term Rangers fixture Michael Young that they wouldn’t move Moreland off first base to appease Young’s demand for infield playing time.

Moreland’s top-10 finish in home run efficiency during the 2010 season is another reason to consider the first baseman late in your respective drafts. Of course, he did it in a very small sample size; nine homers in 145 at-bats doesn’t make him a future All-Star by any stretch of the imagination.

However, the power surge isn’t a fluke if you look at his minor league numbers, and the stadium in Arlington is very, very friendly to long-ball action.

Mike Stanton, FLA. Giving us a little more to work from, Stanton’s 22 homers in 359 at-bats comes out to a nice 16.3 home run efficiency mark. Not that this should be surprising; Stanton has been hyped as a home-run machine for quite some time.

However, he’s also developed a track record of having an inconsistent batting average, something that the AB/HR stat doesn’t factor in.

Danny Espinosa, WAS. Six homers in 28 at-bats isn’t anywhere near a good enough sample size to flag Espinosa as a must-add value player at second base. However, he did produce well in both power and speed categories throughout his time in the minors, lacking mostly in the batting average department.

Offseason wrist surgery isn’t expected to affect his 2011 production, and there's definite upside here.

I’d stick with a wait-and-see approach for the time being, but be ready to pounce if you need some depth.

Mike Napoli, TEX. One of my value catchers for several reasons, his power potential being one of the main ones. Napoli’s 17.4 mark in 2010 makes him the most efficient home-run-hitting catcher in baseball.

And, this is no fluke. Over his five years of MLB action, Napoli has averaged a home run every 16.8 at-bats.

His average took a dip in 2010, but his power could be better than ever in the hitter-friendly Texas stadium.

J.P. Arencibia, TOR. Another of my value catchers, many are suggesting that he’ll be the next Piazza at the position—a catcher with legitimate power. The fact that he was already one of the most efficient home-run hitters in 2010 is a sign that the pundits could be right.

Just be warned that, from an AB/HR standpoint, we are talking two homers in 35 at-bats. Not much to hang a hat on just yet.

However, production prior to his MLB stint suggests that Arencibia's power is no fluke.

Mike Morse, WAS. No, this isn’t that Bowling for Columbine guy. Might as well be, considering how far off the radar Morse is for many mainstream fantasy baseball folks.

That could be because his 15 homers in 266 at-bats last season seems really fluky when you consider the 28-year-old has been in the majors six years and hadn't done much of anything prior to 2010.

In fact, he’s currently battling for a job with the Nationals, trying to latch on as a starter in left field despite the push for Roger Bernadina to take over that slot.

Morse could find himself in some sort of utility role, but will it be enough to produce regular fantasy stats?

Probably not. Especially since his batting average is as consistent as Charlie Sheen’s mental status.

Dan Uggla, ATL. I’ve been high on Uggla in my second base rankings and as a second base value player. This is one of the reasons why.

Guy consistently and efficiently hits for power at a position where power is very rare.

Tyler Colvin, CHC. The 20 homers over 358 at-bats suggest that Colvin could be a sleeper OF if you’re in need of some extra power this season.

His feast-or-famine demeanor at the plate linked with his .351 batting average at the major league level and likely role as a platoon guy in the Cubs right field makes him more of a guy to watch (in the distance) than anything to run out and grab anytime soon.

For more on this topic, including the top 28 in home run efficiency from 2010, go here.

Don't miss my composite Top 50 fantasy players, merging rankings from several major sites into one ultimate list.

Or my my positional rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

Or my sleeper/value players:  | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

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